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Sri Lankan Government Responds to Attack That Kills 290

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  • A series of eight bombings killed 290 people in Sri Lanka and injured hundreds more.
  • Three of the bombs went off in churches on Easter Sunday.
  • The attacks are believed to have been carried out by a local extremist group called National Thowheeth Jamath, and authorities were warned of the attacks ahead of time, but never alerted the Prime Minister.
  • The government is enforcing a curfew throughout the capital and has also blocked several social media sites to prevent the spread of false information.

What Happened?

A series of eight bombings killed 290 people in Sri Lanka and injured at least 500 others on Easter Sunday.

In the country’s capital, Colombo, four attacks were located at hotels and another was at a housing complex. The remaining three bombings were carried out at churches during Easter mass. The churches were located in Colombo, Batticaloa, and Negombo.

Since the bombings happened on Easter, officials believe it was specifically targeting the Christian community in the country. Christianity is a smaller religion in Sri Lanka. Only 1.5 million of the country’s 21 million people practice it.

While the attacks occurred in popular tourist areas, most of the victims were citizens of Sri Lanka. Right now, authorities say 39 foreigners were killed.

Police believe that all the explosions were carried out by suicide bombers. No group has claimed the attack. However, police say a local extremist group, National Thoweeth Jamath, is behind the attacks. Twenty-four people have been arrested in relation to Sunday’s events so far. Officers have also recovered 87 detonators at a bus station in Colombo.

According to Sri Lanka’s government news site, INTERPOL is being sent to the country to investigate. The country will be in a state of emergency through midnight local time on Monday.

Warnings of Attack Went Ignored

Government officials say that they were alerted of the attacks two weeks in advance. A spokesperson said they received several warnings that specifically cited potential church bombings by NJT, and even listed suspects names.

The warnings were passed through relevant areas of the police department and to security services, but the information never made its way to the Prime Minister or his cabinet. Authorities took no action against NJT, and it is unclear if they took separate precautions to look into or prevent the attack.

Rajitha Senaratne, a government spokesperson, said that they would be looking into the government’s failure to respond.

“We saw the warnings and we saw the details given.” he added during a press conference. “We are very very sorry, as a government we have to say, we have to apologize to the families and the institutions about this incident.”

Authorities said the warnings they received indicated a much smaller attack. NJT is a newer, smaller group known for having anti-Buddhism beliefs. Buddhism is the most popular religion in Sri Lanka, and the group has been linked to incidents of Buddhist statues being vandalized or destroyed. They do not have a reputation for carrying out attacks of this level.  Because of this, officials believe a larger international network must also be behind the attack.

Government Enacts a Curfew And Social Media Ban

In an effort to prevent further attacks, the government enacted a curfew in Colombo. The curfew lasts from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. and was enforced on Sunday and Monday. It is unclear if they will continue to apply it in the following days.

The government has also shut down several social media sites following the attack. In a statement posted on the government news site, they said, “false news reports were spreading through social media.” They hope that by banning these platforms, they will stop the spread of misinformation.

The statement said that the sites would be back up after investigations close. They cited that Instagram and Facebook would be specifically blocked, but users in the country have also said they are unable to access messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber.

Viber released a statement on Twitter sending condolences to the victims of the attacks and warning local residents to read reports with caution.

Some residents are feeling frustrated by the blocks because they want to communicate with friends and family and confirm that they are safe.

One Colombo resident told The Washington Post that her friends from other countries were unable to reach her.

“I have had friends in London trying to contact me through both (WhatsApp and FaceBook),” she said. “And I can’t see them or message anybody.”

International Leaders Respond

As the news was breaking of the tragedy, several world leaders spoke out. President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States is “ready to help!”

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country recently received global assistance after the iconic Notre Dame cathedral caught fire, reached out to Sri Lanka. He told the country that “all of our solidarity” is with its people.

Pope Frances also gave a statement. “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community [of Sri Lanka],” he said. “Wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Guardian)

International

U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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